“There they are again—don’t look!”
Yolie froze, mid-fold, and snapped her head forward again to look at Luxe. “Who?”
Luxe glanced up over Yolie’s shoulder. “You know who…Burgundy.” He glanced back down at the socks that he was rolling. “So, are we going to do it?”
Yolie finished folding her t-shirt and lowered her brows as she gave a single nod.
Yolie and Luxe were “laundromat” friends, who had become actual friends over the course of the past year. And Burgundy was the most intriguing patron to appear in Mervin’s Laundromat since the day the two friends met there. They didn’t know the mysterious new patron’s actual name—well, relatively new. It had been a few weeks. Burgundy always came in wearing the same glossy burgundy raincoat. They always wore the same amber-tinted glasses. And they washed the same clothes, the same way, every single week.
The first time Yolie and Luxe saw the new patron, they had nodded, smiled, and said “hello.” After noting the gorgeousness of the patron’s burgundy raincoat, they had moved on to other conversation.
There was a regular rotation of new people at Mervin’s, after all, new people who were visitors or tourists staying at a cheaper hotel that didn’t have a laundry room of its own.
Sometimes Mervin’s was the tourist destination. The laundromat boasted state-of-the-art machines and a central command console that could control and kept track of each machine’s status in real time. It all seemed overkill to some, but to the residents of the neighborhood—even those who had washers and driers in their homes—the technology was worth the fuss that Mervin had made about it. Washer cycles were half or a third those of other places. Dry times were about ten minutes, no matter how big the load. Water use was so efficient, Mervin joked that his machines were using the residual water in the clothes and the water vapor in the very atmosphere.
And because turnaround was so high with the machines, he kept his prices low. Mervin would also joke that his accountant had told him that the real profit came from the adjacent “snack bar,” which was actually a full-service diner kitchen. Some scoffed at the idea of folding their clothes while enjoying a tuna melt. The clothes were likely to get dirty again, with food stains, and then they would have to be re-washed. But here again, Mervin was generous. He allowed any patron who had washed their clothes and then sat down to fold and eat at his establishment to re-wash their clothes for free should any food stain make its way to those clothes.
In the early days, patrons tested this offer. But it wasn’t too long before they began to see that Mervin was sincere, and not too much longer after that, they began to respect his sincerity, and his establishment, by keeping their washed clothes as clean as possible when they went over to the diner side.
So despite the wash and dry times being so fast, the average regular patron spent a few hours on each visit. And the average regular patron, like Yolie and Luxe, visited once a week.
Yolie and Luxe came on Wednesday afternoons, leaving early from their respective jobs to beat the evening rush. Sometimes the evening crowds were fun, but for a couple of introverts, it was even more fun to come when the place was only at half capacity.
When they saw the gorgeous burgundy coat a second time, they realized that they might be dealing with a new regular.
They exchanged greetings with the new patron again, whom they named “Burgundy” after the gorgeous raincoat. And then they began to notice that the burgundy coat wasn’t the only element that was identical between each of the patron’s visits. Burgundy washed the same seven articles of clothing every week. They used the same machine ever week, one of the machines that could both wash and dry in one drum, Machine Three. They always left the laundromat during the washing and drying cycle and returned just before the load was done. They always pulled each article of clothing out of the machine one by one, folding and stowing away in a maroon tote bag.
Rather than finding this sameness boring, Yolie and Luxe were fascinated.
They began guessing, starting with the obvious reasons.
“They probably just don’t want to think about what the wear every morning,” Luxe said. “Seems practical.”
“I had a college professor like that,” Yolie said. “She wore the same black slacks and emerald blouse every lecture.”
Another conversation centered around the timing of the load and the strict sequence of actions.
“They’re really regimented,” Yolie said after Burgundy left one day.
Luxe nodded, pondering the new breakfast menu. “Well, maybe they were in the army or something.”
“Something like an hourly worker with a real strict boss?”
That comment prompted mutual eyerolls as they both began to share anecdotes about their own bosses’ antics that week.
At some point, they began making up a more interesting story about the mysterious patron in the burgundy wrap coat.
Burgundy was an agent. And the laundry was meant to be an excuse for them to meet with their contacts, or the laundromat itself was a message exchange of some sort.
“Then why hasn’t anyone come to receive the message?” Mervin himself quipped as he passed by the friends one day when they were repeating and adding details to their elaborate spy story.
He wagged a finger at them, and they translated the unspoken message. They could have their fun speculating, as long as they didn’t chase away a good customer.
“You know what I realized?” Yolie said one day, sipping on a hot chocolate as she folded her towels. “I haven’t been paying close attention to Burgundy’s face. Not really. I mean, we look directly at each other when we say ‘hi,’ but how long is that? A few seconds?”
“What’s your point?”
“Remember what Mervin said? About how if Burgundy was leaving messages, no one is coming to pick them up?”
“When he was humoring us? Yeah…”
“But Burgundy leaves the laundromat every single time. Never stays to hang around, read a magazine, have some food.”
“And, Burgundy comes back…or seems to come back. The burgundy coat. The amber glasses. About the same height and build, same hair length and color, et cetera. But maybe. It’s not. The same person.”
Luxe nodded. “You know something, I was just thinking about how Burgundy is nice to us at first, but doesn’t say a word after coming back from…wherever.”
Yolie chuckled. “You know we have to take it to the next level right? Take a stroll by that machine and see for ourselves if there’s anything extra tumbling around in there.”
“Mervin will toss us out.”
“Mervin loves us. He would never.”
“I would never what!” Mervin called from behind the counter of the receiving desk.
Yolie shrugged and turned away, smiling at Luxe.
They gave it a few awkward tries. And Mervin knew exactly what they were doing, but either Yolie was right and he loved them too much to kick them out, or he thought whatever they were doing was harmless.
Or maybe he found it amusing when Luxe pretended to just be walking by as Burgundy folded that week’s load. Luxe was literally whistling as he dropped the same pen three times. Burgundy bent down to pick it up once, and Luxe peaked inside the machine drum. He was sweating at the temples when he returned to Yolie to report that he saw nothing.
And maybe Mervin found it amusing when Yolie pretended to take a picture of herself in the laundromat as her camera pointed to the open door of Machine Three, and she tried to zoom beyond her phone camera’s range.
They tried a few other antics, like the old “I was using that machine before, and I think I left something in there. Can I check?” and the old “Hey I think you forgot something in the machine.” They inspected the machine just before and just after Burgundy used it.
Their efforts failed. They didn’t see anything unusual in the machine. No secret spy messages were written on the surface of the drum in invisible ink. No hidden messages were contained within the seven articles of clothing that were washed week in and week out.
So they next wondered what would happen if the machine were broken for a while. They’d never seen Burgundy have to deal with using a different machine. The laundromat’s central machine status console alerted the staff of any issues with machines, so even if patrons didn’t complain, the staff would know and get a broken machine fixed as soon as possible. That was Mervin’s way.
Yolie and Luxe counted on Burgundy not knowing what the machine breakdown procedures were at Mervin’s, and they made their own “out of order” sign. Making sure the staff weren’t watching, and waiting for a night when Mervin was out of town, they stuck their sign on Machine Three just before Burgundy arrived.
But again, they were thwarted. On seeing the sign, Burgundy went right up to the receiving desk and asked the staff about Machine Three. Records showed the machine was operational. And after doing a quick diagnostic test, the staff member removed the sign from the machine, and declared that it must have been some kind of prank being played by kids.
This particular staff member was pretty new. She wasn’t yet familiar with Yolie and Luxe and their make-believe caper.
After Burgundy left, Yolie and Luxe discussed whether they had gone a bit too far.
“What if we messed up Burgundy’s schedule?” Yolie said.
“It was just five minutes. But yeah, we should think of something that’s not as disruptive.”
The next week, after Burgundy arrived at the usual time, and put the usual seven items of clothing in the usual machine, Yolie and Luxe were surprised to find their fellow patron walking straight toward them.
They were folding their clothes at a folding station, and gave the usual greeting.
Burgundy smiled and said “hello” back.
One of the diner’s wait staff walked over with a plate of soup and bread. She set it down before Burgundy. “Here you go, sir.”
Burgundy thanked her, and she informed Yolie and Luxe that their platters were coming up soon.
Yolie and Luxe tried to be casual as they continued folding their clothes.
Burgundy stirred his soup. “If you want to know what I’m up to, all you have to do is ask.”
Yolie and Luxe glanced at each other.
Luxe laughed nervously. “Would you tell us?”
Burgundy removed his amber-tinted glasses to reveal sparkling brown eyes. “Why not ask and find out?”
“We’ve been seeing you for weeks and haven’t introduced ourselves,” Yolie said. “I’m Yolie.” She tipped her head toward Luxe. “And this is Luxe.”
“And you call me…Burgundy?” Burgundy grinned.
Yolie widened her eyes a bit. “After your…gorgeous coat.”
Burgundy’s brows shrugged up. “Thank you. I like it too. And I like the name you’ve given me. I’d like to use that, if you don’t mind—no titles, just the name. I’m…between names right now.”
An awkward beat passed.
“You really are a mystery, Burgundy,” Yolie said.
Luxe nodded. He wiped his brow. “And we’d like to know what you’re up to.”
Burgundy took a sip of soup and leaned toward them. “I’m certain you won’t believe me. Should I tell you anyway?”
Yolie and Luxe glanced between themselves again, then looked at Burgundy.
“Try us,” they said in unison.
Burgundy grinned again. Then he started laughing and shaking his head. “I swore Mervin to secrecy. And now here I am, breaking that oath myself. But then, why should sneak around, eh?”
Neither Yolie nor Luxe knew how to respond to that.
“Now, I don’t want to make assumptions, so have either of you grown up around any Lokh-faere?”
Neither Yolie nor Luxe had grown up around any Lokh-faere. They said so.
“To be brief,” Burgundy said, “What I am up to is the task of blending in with human society as best I can. And Mervin is providing a service that helps me to do that.”
Burgundy explained that Mervin’s Laundromat was far more advanced even most people knew. Machine Three was the first and only machine in their region that was programmed to treat specially prepared fabrics with what he called a “thread-glamour.”
“You see, we Lokh-faere, or fairies as you like to call us, come in all sizes and shapes, from a mountain to a flea,” Burgundy explained. “Once upon a time, we walked among you as we were, but then that didn’t work out for some of you. So we came to disguise ourselves whenever we went out amongst you, unless of course, we were looking for attention.”
In the early days, according to Burgundy, those disguises came in the form of spells called “glamours” that created illusions around a fairy. A glamour could make a giant appear to be the size of a tall human man. A different glamour could make a sprite who was naturally the size of a sparrow appear to be the size of a human child.
The thread-glamour treatment in Mervin’s Machine Three was a multi-step process. After a certain number of washes, the treated articles of clothing, when donned by a Lokh-faere would allow the wearer to maintain human proportions, otherwise the fairy would return to their native size.
“Humans are quite mystified and scandalized by the issue of size, aren’t they?” Burgundy said, adjusting the collar of his burgundy coat.
By then, everyone’s meals had arrived, the laundry was forgotten, and the three were sitting at a booth.
“Well, as you mentioned, we don’t have as much…variety, as you fairies seem to,” Yolie said.
“Well, no, based on what you’ve described.”
Burgundy propped an elbow on the table, and he propped his chin on a curled fist. “And you believe me? I am—to you—an authority on fairies?”
Luxe blinked. “Well…we have no reason to believe you would lie.”
“What reason do you have to believe I would tell the truth?”
Yolie narrowed her eyes. “Are you some kind of trickster fairy?”
“Are you some kind of trickster human?”
Luxe laughed and pointed to Yolie. “Actually…”
Yolie elbowed him, and the three of them laughed.
Burgundy nodded to them each and rose. “This has been both a pleasure and an annoyance.”
“That’s fair,” Yolie said, also rising.
Luxe quickly wiped his mouth of ranch sauce and stood.
“The meal is on me,” Burgundy said.
Yolie and Luxe began to make a fuss, but Burgundy waved a hand. “Please, I insist.”
“Allow us to get the next one,” Yolie said.
Burgundy paused. “If there is a next meal, then I accept.”
“Does that mean…are you clothes ready?” Luxe asked.
“I believe the cycle is done.” Burgundy paid for the meal and wished Yolie and Luxe a good night.
The two friends finished their meal, walked back to the laundromat side, and approached Machine Three. They stood before it, staring into the drum.
“What do you think?” Yolie said. “Do you think he was putting us on?”
“I think the lady living in the corner unit of my building might be a Lokh-faere. But I don’t want to offend her by asking.” Luxe sighed. “But sometimes when I see her, I feel like I’m being extra-nice but in a weird way.”
“I know what you mean.”
“We could ask Mervin. About the machine.”
Yolie tilted her head to peer into the drum. “He won’t say anything. He’s been sworn to secrecy, remember?”
“Are you going to use that one?” a voice asked.
Yolie and Luxe turned around. A young woman stood behind them, holding a turquoise basket stacked with mesh packets full of clothes.
Yolie stepped out of the way and waved her forward. “All yours.”
Luxe and Yolie walked away, back toward to their own stacks of clean laundry.
“Somebody’s organized,” Luxe said, glancing up at the young woman at Machine Three.
“You think she’s cute, don’t you?”
Luxe blushed and quickly headed to the exit.
Yolie caught up and put an arm around him. “You know what? Don’t answer that. Let’s grab some coffees and talk about ourselves for a change.”
Copyright © 2020 Nila L. Patel